YEREVAN – Armenia's prime minister said Wednesday that Azerbaijan's aggressive stance in the 25-day fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh leaves no room for diplomacy, and urged citizens to sign up as military volunteers to protect their country.
In a live video address on Facebook, Nikol Pashinian said that all Armenians must “take up arms and defend the Motherland” and urged local mayors to organize volunteer units. He charged that Azerbaijan's uncompromising posture has shattered hopes for a political settlement.
“There is no way now to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh issue through diplomacy,” Pashinian said. “In this situation, we may consider all hopes, proposals and ideas about the need to find a diplomatic settlement effectively terminated.”
On Friday, Armenia and Azerbaijan's foreign ministers are due to meet the U.S. Secretary of State in Washington. On Wednesday they held separate talks with Russia's foreign minister.
Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994. The current fighting that started on Sept. 27 marks the biggest escalation in the conflict since the war's end.
Two Russia-brokered cease-fires frayed immediately after entering force, and the warring parties have continued to trade blows with heavy artillery, rockets and drones.
According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, 834 of their troops have been killed, and more than 30 civilians. Azerbaijan hasn’t disclosed its military losses, but says 63 civilians have died and 292 have been wounded.
Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev said that to end hostilities Armenian forces must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh. He has insisted that Azerbaijan has the right to reclaim its territory by force after nearly three decades of international mediation yielded no progress.
Aliyev's foreign policy adviser, Hikmat Hajiyev, charged that Pashinian’s statement reflected the lack of Armenia’s interest in a diplomatic settlement and showed disrespect to efforts taken by international mediators.
Russia, the U.S. and France co-chair the so-called Minsk Group, set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in the 1990s to mediate the conflict.
Pashinian charged in Wednesday's video address that Azerbaijan's stance effectively amounts to the demand that the Nagorno-Karabakh region surrenders.
“There is no Armenia without Nagorno-Karabakh,” Pashinian said. “Defending Nagorno-Karabakh means defending the Armenian people’s rights.”
The Armenian leader accused Azerbaijan's ally Turkey of fueling the latest escalation of hostilities and blocking any attempt at a cease-fire.
“Ankara has conducted the policy of the restoration of an empire and sought to expand its influence,” he said. “Turkey is trying to prevent a truce because it has ambitious goals in the region.”
NATO's member Turkey has strongly defended its ally's right to reclaim its lands by force, and jockeyed for a higher-profile diplomatic role in the conflict. Strike drones and long-range rocket systems supplied by Turkey in previous years have given the Azerbaijani military an edge on the battlefield.
Armenian President Armen Sarkissian also took aim at Turkey during a visit to Brussels on Wednesday, accusing the neighboring country of deploying militants from Syria to the conflict area.
The Turkish government has previously denied that allegation, but a Syrian war monitor and Syria-based opposition activists have confirmed that Turkey sent hundreds of Syrian opposition fighters to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Sarkissian said that if Ankara starts to play a more positive role, “I do believe that we will reach a cease-fire there, and hopefully after that, we can go back to the negotiations."
Appearing alongside Sarkissian, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the military alliance “is deeply concerned by ongoing violations of the cease-fire, which have caused tragic loss of life."
Russia, which has a military base in Armenia and a security pact obliging Moscow to protect its ally, has walked a thin line, trying to also maintain good ties with Azerbaijan and avoid a spat with Turkey.
After two failed attempts to broker a truce, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hosted his counterparts from Armenia and Azerbaijan for another round of separate talks on Wednesday. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the talks focused on “urgent issues related to the previously reached cease-fire agreements.”
On Friday, the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers are scheduled to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington.
Pompeo said at a news conference in Washington Wednesday that “the right path forward is to cease the conflict, tell them to deescalate, that every country should stay out, provide no fuel for this conflict, no weapon systems, no support, and it is at that point that a diplomatic solution would be acceptable to all that can potentially be achieved.”
Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Matthew Lee in Washington, Aida Sultanova in London and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.